31 December 2009

Administration Throws Good Money After Bad To Increase Control

Washington Post: U.S. takes majority stake in GMAC, giving lender $3.8 billion more in aid

The federal government said Wednesday that it will take majority control of troubled auto lender GMAC and provide an additional $3.8 billion in aid to the company, which has been unable to raise from private investors the money it needs to staunch its losses.

What initially appeared to be a closing act now looks more like year-end portfolio rebalancing, with companies including Citigroup and Bank of America allowed to repay aid even as the government deepens its involvement in mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- and now, GMAC.

The government now owns majority ownership stakes in those three firms, General Motors and insurance giant American International Group. It also holds large stakes in Citigroup and Chrysler.

The additional aid for GMAC underscores both its struggles and its importance to the administration's efforts to revive the auto industry. GMAC, which already has taken $12.5 billion in direct federal aid along with other forms of government support, is the largest lender to General Motors and Chrysler dealerships and to their customers.

Treasury said that it will increase its stake in GMAC to 56 percent from 35 percent. The government also will hold about $14 billion in what amounts to loans that GMAC may eventually repay. The government plans to appoint four of the company's nine directors.

We Need To Be Indomitable

I like this guy's attitude. It is both more realistic and more robust than the official line:

Via Denim and Tweed, from The Atlantic: Bruce Schneier on TSA Absurdity and the Need for Resilience

I want President Obama to get on national television and project indomitability. I want him to dial back the hyperbole, and remind us that our society can't be terrorized. I want him to roll back all the fear-based post-9/11 security measures.

We'd do much better by leveraging the inherent strengths of our modern democracies and the natural advantages we have over the terrorists: our adaptability and survivability, our international network of laws and law enforcement, and the freedoms and liberties that make our society so enviable.

The way we live is open enough to make terrorists rare; we are observant enough to prevent most of the terrorist plots that exist, and indomitable enough to survive the even fewer terrorist plots that actually succeed. We don't need to pretend otherwise.

And This Week's Statement of the Obvious Award Goes To ...

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). As reported in The Wall Street Journal, a study reported in Science magazine makes the observation that taxes make people unhappy. Not seeing any benefit from those high taxes makes people even more unhappy.

Wow. Thanks for clearing that up. We never would have guessed. We are glad you are here to tell us these things.

WSJ: Are Taxes the Root of Unhappiness?
States with the highest taxes also rank as the unhappiest.
In states with high property, income, and sales taxes like New York, people have less money to spend on other things that make them happy. They have less money to spend on vacations, hobbies, home improvements, eating out and child care. Another problem may be that people receive a low return on their tax dollars.

The study's authors note that people are least happy in states that impose high taxes but don't provide matching public benefits (e.g. good highways to relieve congestion and reduce commute times). It's in states where taxes disproportionately subsidize public employee pensions and entitlement programs, but don't much improve the general public's quality of life, that people are most unhappy.

This intuitively makes sense. If you're paying more than a third of your income in taxes, as many New Yorkers do, then you expect to realize the benefits from your hard-earned tax dollars. You expect quality schools, good roads, low crime rates, and quick commutes. You expect your local and state governments to be responsive to your needs, not to the cash flows of entrenched public employee unions and other special interests.

Choosing The Right Side In Iran

WSJ: Iranians Want Regime Change
Khamenei is losing the support of the clergy and military.
What's at stake here are not only the lives of the Iranian protesters and the future of the country, but global security. If the apocalyptic ayatollahs manage to survive this crisis, then the U.S, Israel and the region—judging by Iran's theological doctrines, nuclear aspirations, and existing conventional arsenal—will face a mortal danger. The emergence of a democratic Iran is therefore not only a moral imperative but should be the foreign policy priority of every cold-hearted realist as well as multicultural engager. That's why it is so incomprehensible that the Obama Administration still prefers dialogue with the apocalyptic ayatollahs over uncompromising support for the people crying out for freedom.

If the protesters shake off the yoke of theocracy and savagery, their success could herald the failure of political Islam way beyond Iran. At this turning point in history the West has no logical alternative but to unequivocally support the Green Revolution. The fate of this movement far outweighs the useless nuclear talks that will only buy the regime time and undeserved international legitimacy. The demonstrators in Iran on Dec. 7 rightfully exclaimed: "Obama, are you with them [the regime] or with us?" History will not judge him lightly if he chooses the wrong side.

Is Inflation Coming?

MSNBC: What Americans might face next: inflation
Consumers increasingly uneasy about possible loss of purchasing power

Yet beneath the weak economic backdrop keeping prices in check, economists and consumers are increasingly uneasy about the prospect of a continuous loss of purchasing power — the very definition of inflation.

"We have the most potentially inflationary policy I have ever observed in a developed country," said Alan Meltzer, a Fed historian and professor of political economy at the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh.

According to widely used economic models, the way consumers perceive the prospect of future inflation has clear implications for prices themselves. Once higher costs are taken for granted, they are more easily tolerated.

Several indicators are already hinting at that possibility.

Houston Politicians Itching To Get Rid Of Term Limits

This is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. This whole commission idea is a cover to ditch the term limits that apply to city government. The term limits were put into place to remove entrenched politicians. Incumbents have too many advantages financially, as they collect contributions from those who are seeking contracts with the city.

There is no one in city government that we can't live without. What is it about political office that creates delusions of indispensability? I guess all the people kissing your ass all day eventually goes to your head.

Terms limits have produced a beneficial and healthy turnover in office.

Houston Chronicle: Mayor White appoints commission to study term limits

Voters may soon be asked to change the strict term limits applied to Houston's elected officials in 1993 after a referendum that upended local politics.

Mayor Bill White on Tuesday announced a 21-member commission to study Houston's term limits and make recommendations by July 1. Any changes to the current limit of three, two-year terms for Houston's mayor, controller and 14 City Council members would be subject to approval by the council and by voters.

Clymer Wright, the conservative Houston businessman who led the petition drive that led to the term limits, said the commission isn't needed. If voters wanted the system changed they could petition for a referendum, Wright said.

Creating a commission to call for a referendum, Wright said, enables city officials to “get all the special interest money behind them and run a major campaign” to weaken term limits. If this happens, Wright said, he's ready to go back into battle.

“We'll prevail, but this is really unnecessary,” he said.

Nancy Sims, a longtime Houston political consultant who now blogs about local politics and governance, said voters might not feel the need now for the limits approved 18 years ago.

Limiting officials to six years in office removed Houston's government from the control of entrenched incumbents who were “almost institutions in office,” Sims said.

Some Catch Up Links With Poli-Tea

While we were down, I was unable to link to some excellent analysis over at Poli-Tea. May I suggest:

You Have a Choice: there is another option besides the two evils. which links to Settling for the Lesser of Two Evils is the Greater Evil
"Settling for the lesser of two evils is the greater evil," concluding, in part, that the individual voter must:

cease thinking of him or herself as a captive of either major party who cannot deviate from either one or else disaster will strike. That puts the power — too much power — voluntarily in the hands of the major parties and their insiders and away from voters and ordinary citizens.
Excluding third party candidates from debates is a significant method of retaining the two party system: The Liberty Movement, the Two-Party State and the Commission on Presidential Debates

On Voter Turnout and Independent Politics: the Only Wasted Vote is a Vote for a Democrat or a Republican which included this quote from independent candidate for Colorado governor Rich Hand: "Nothing could be more corrosive to our country than a political class that by design will always be the enemy of freedom and our constitution."

The post The Two-Party System: Bleeding at Both Ends (and from the Middle) examines how not only the left and right are showing dissatisfaction with the two old line parties but how voters who are centrists or moderates are also looking for a political alternative.

When Mogadishu Airport in Somalia Has Better Security Than You Do, It Makes You Think

MSNBC: Somali held last month with chemicals, syringe
‘We caught him red-handed,’ official says after arrest in Mogadishu airport

Limited Options For Iran

Excerpt from the NY Times: There’s Only One Way to Stop Iran . The author of the piece is Alan J. Kuperman, the director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

... Iran, for domestic political reasons, cannot make even temporary concessions on its bomb program, regardless of incentives or sanctions. Since peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work, and an invasion would be foolhardy, the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The risks of acquiescence are obvious. Iran supplies Islamist terrorist groups in violation of international embargoes. Even President Ahmadinejad’s domestic opponents support this weapons traffic. If Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal, the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb.

Negotiation to prevent nuclear proliferation is always preferable to military action. But in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement. We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.

Administration Goes After Bloggers

NY Times: TSA Subpoenas Bloggers, Demands Names of Sources
As the government reviews how an alleged terrorist was able to bring a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane and try to blow it up on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration is going after bloggers who wrote about a directive to increase security after the incident.
1Jan10 UPDATE: The government has dropped the subpoenas.

30 December 2009

If Man Were Meant To Fly, He Would Have Wings

So while I was out last week, there was an attempted terrorist attack on an airplane.

Maybe you heard about it.

Or maybe you did not turn on a TV, a computer, open the paper, or talk to anyone. Coming over the ususally slow holiday period, the media jumped on the story like a starving dog on a bone.

While acknowledging the apparent human and system failures, perhaps we should understand that air travel is inherently dangerous and there is nothing that can be done to guarantee absolute safety.

All that being said, what can be said of an air travel security system that treats me like a terrorist, but can't recognize a real terrorist, one that was even renounced to the authorities by his own father?

While I am taking off my shoes and providing stool samples so I can get on a 35 minute flight to the next city, they let an angry, radical, young male, Nigerian Muslim waltz onto an international flight with a frakkin two liter bottle of explosives strapped to his leg?

Meanwhile back at the local airport, they are stip searching toddlers, and feeling up their mothers. Because it is legally easier to harass everyone, wasting enormous resources, instead of facing the reality of terrorism. I swear to God, political correctness will be the death of us.

Still, a shrill media will insist that something be done, if for no other reason than there is something about air travel that seems to unnerve people.

Tens of thousand die in cars every year. Plenty die because of trains. Ships burn, crash, sink, and run aground. But we somehow expect air travel to be perfect. Why can we not accept that it is not and it never will be? The chances of anything going wrong are absurdly low, but how many people board planes with dread? Is it the unique fragility of the machine itself, or the unnaturalness of it all? Perhaps we suspect that we really are not supposed to be up in the sky, being even less adapted to that environment than living underwater.

The Pain of Procrastination

"If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done."

THE WHIG is back up, where have I been today? As an attorney, I am required to endure a certain amount of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) every year. Tomorrow is the last day I have to complete my requirements for the year, and so I have been shoving an entire year of online classes into one day.

Ususally, I try to stay a year ahead of the requirement, but for some reason, this past year, I didn't get around to it. Today, I paid the price.

Instead of getting back to blogging, I have been subjected to a day long mind-numbing amount of seminars, now stretching into the evening, which I can at least thankfully complete online.

Believe me, I would rather have been blogging. Or drilling on my own teeth. Hopefully, I will be done tonight, with one whole day to spare.

29 December 2009

The Whig Blog Is Back!

Hope you had a Merry Christmas and I hope you will have a Happy New Year!

THE WHIG is back!

The blog was taken down by blogger back on December 21st because of an erroneous false positive for a spamblog from the Googlebot.

I didn't even know that could happen, so it caught me by surprise, that is for sure. They have a process where a human being takes a look at it, and if it's not a spamblog, they will put it back up. That was delayed a bit apparently because of Christmas.

I think I went through all seven stages of grief last week, but at the end of the day, Google/blogger/blogspot are providing a free service, and some pretty powerful software, and I have no idea how they make money off of these blogs, so I don't know if I can really complain much. And they actually responded to my requests for a review, and to questions about what happened, and why.

Yes, I know, I know, I should get my own host and go Wordpress. We already own whigblog.com (which redirects here), and I reserved the name whigblog.wordpress.com, but I really did not want to have to start over. Then there are all the links and everything. Also, self-hosting means having to figure out how some of this works. Maybe if it happens again, I will get off my lazy butt. Plus it costs a few bucks a month, and I don't exactly make money off this either, so I will stick with the free blogger for the time being.

Hopefully it won't happen again, and we can go on. Just to be careful, I pulled the posts that went up on 21Dec just in case one of them triggered it.

Just to let you know, if you come here often, or subscribe to the feed, I will not just turn the blog off. If it is down, something has gone wrong. If I ever decide to stop blogging, I will announce it on the final post and just leave it up. Also, if the blog is down again, take a look for us over at Wordpress.

So on we go.

20 December 2009

Missed Opportunity For Real Financial Reform

Business Week: A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste
This should have been the year of radical financial reform

In 2009 we wasted a perfectly good financial crisis.

With disastrous economic events accumulating in March, President Barack Obama exhorted listeners during a weekly radio talk to "discover great opportunity in the midst of great crisis." It's an appealing conceit: seeking breakthrough achievement in a time of danger.

That's why it's such a shame we didn't take advantage of the Wall Street crisis of 2008 by making 2009 the Year of Real Financial Reform.

Instead, the Obama Administration offered half-measures. The financiers lobbied against even modest reforms, and a Congress drenched in Wall Street campaign cash has peppered proposed regulation with loopholes.

At a conference in the U.K. on Dec. 8, Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve and an Obama adviser, addressed an audience of bankers and executives who were insisting that Wall Street and big corporations can police themselves, without more government scrutiny. "Wake up, gentlemen," Volcker said, according to media reports. "Your response is inadequate."

With popular skepticism toward Wall Street at a peak in early 2009, our political and business leaders did...nowhere near enough. The White House bought the Wall Street line that bigger is better, or at least unavoidable. Now the banks are larger and more intricate than ever. As The Wall Street Journal noted recently, the world's 10 biggest banks account for about 70% of global banking assets, up from 59% three years ago.

The implicit taxpayer safety net—now explicit—means that some bankers almost certainly will engage in the kind of risk-taking that brought us the subprime fiasco. Why not? Someone else will clean up the mess.

The tame alternative to real regulation is greater transparency. And, yes, we will have more disclosure of credit-derivatives trading.

Lawmakers backed away from any serious attempt to slow the invention of novel exotic trades whose side effects few, if any, really understand.

The list of missed opportunities is too long for one humane sitting.

Congress roughed up some rating-agency executives at hearings and may yet require more disclosure here, too. But the basic conflict persists. Genuine reform fizzled. We'll regret it when the next crisis hits.

He Drinks A Whisky Drink, He Drinks A Vodka Drink

Whisky hangover 'worse than vodka, a study suggests'

Drinking whisky will result in a worse hangover than vodka, according to research by US scientists.

The reason might lie in the number of molecules called "congeners" which it contains compared to vodka, the Brown University team said.

The volunteers who drank whisky reported far more hangover symptoms such as headache nausea, thirst and fatigue compared with those who drank vodka.

However, the overall performance at the concentration task was roughly the same between the two groups.

Is Iranian Government Shaky?

BBC: Iran's government 'will not last', says Mehdi Karoubi

The Iranian government is being kept in power by force and will not last its four-year term, one of the opposition presidential candidates has predicted.

Opposition member Mehdi Karoubi said the government faced pressure from members of parliament, the Iranian public and the rest of the world.

Speaking to the BBC in Tehran, he repeated allegations over the abuse of anti-government protesters in prison.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in disputed elections in June.

"From the first day the election result came out I was convinced that Mr Ahmadinejad would not survive the full four years of his term," Mr Karoubi said.
"Even within the last six months, the government has only been kept in power by force."

Senate Democrats Secure 60th Vote. Health Care Legislation To Pass.

I hope you like what is in there, because it is going to pass.

Huffington Post: Obama hails 60th Senate vote for health care

Jubilant Democrats locked in Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson as the 60th and decisive vote for historic health care legislation Saturday, putting President Barack Obama's signature issue firmly on a path for Christmas Eve passage.

In the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid smiled broadly when asked if Nelson's decision gave him the 60-vote majority necessary to overcome solid Republican opposition. "Seems that way," he said. The Nevada Democrat agreed to a series of concessions on abortion and other issues demanded by Nelson in daylong talks on Friday, then informed Obama of the agreement in a late night phone call as the president flew home from climate talks in Copenhagen.

At its core, the legislation would create a new insurance exchange where consumers could shop for affordable coverage that complied with new federal guidelines. Most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, with federal subsidies available to help defray the cost for lower and middle income individuals and families.
In a concession to Nelson and other moderates, the bill lacks a government-run insurance option of the type that House Democrats inserted into theirs. In a final defeat for liberals, a proposed Medicare expansion was also jettisoned in the past several days as Reid and the White House maneuvered for 60 votes.

The House passed its version of the bill in November, and final compromise talks are expected to begin after a brief break for the holidays. Numerous issues must be resolved – including the role of government in the new insurance market and abortion restrictions. But Democrats have made a point all year of compromising on difficult issues in the name of the most far-reaching changes in the nation's health care system in generations, and hope to have a bill for Obama to sign before next month's State of the Union address to Congress.

In place of a government-run insurance option, the estimated 30 million Americans purchasing coverage through new insurance exchanges would have the option of signing up for national plans overseen by the same office that manages health coverage for federal employees and members of Congress. Those plans would be privately owned, but operated on a nonprofit basis, as many Blue Cross Blue Shield plans are now.

China Fires A Shot Across The Bow

If I were in the Treasury Department, I would be pissing my pants right now. Well, no, that's not true. If I were in the Treasury Department, I would have resigned in protest over a year ago. But still:

Via Instapundit, from Shanghai Daily.com: Harder to buy US Treasuries

IT is getting harder for governments to buy United States Treasuries because the US's shrinking current-account gap is reducing supply of dollars overseas, a Chinese central bank official said yesterday.

The comments by Zhu Min, deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, referred to the overall situation globally, not specifically to China, the biggest foreign holder of US government bonds.

In a discussion on the global role of the dollar, Zhu told an academic audience that it was inevitable that the dollar would continue to fall in value because Washington continued to issue more Treasuries to finance its deficit spending.

He then addressed where demand for that debt would come from."The United States cannot force foreign governments to increase their holdings of Treasuries," Zhu said, according to an audio recording of his remarks. "Double the holdings? It is definitely impossible."

"The US current account deficit is falling as residents' savings increase, so its trade turnover is falling, which means the US is supplying fewer dollars to the rest of the world," he added.

"The world does not have so much money to buy more US Treasuries."

What happens if they can't buy our bonds?
Bad things. Bad, bad, bad, things.

19 December 2009

Lockerbie Bomber Not So Sick After All

How long will it be before his "miracle cure" is announced?

Times (UK): Growing suspicion over 'missing' Lockerbie bomber, says former Lord Advocate

Others questioned whether al-Megrahi was as sick as Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister, claimed when he released him four months ago on the ground that he had only three months to live.

Bill Aitken, the Conservative Justice spokesman in the Scottish Parliament, demanded the release of al-Megrahi’s medical reports. He said: “If he was so ill on Tuesday how come he was well enough to take the call yesterday?”

Stan Maslowski, whose daughter was returning from London to New Jersey for Christmas when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded 21 years ago on Monday, also demanded the release of the records.

Lord Fraser said that there was “a growing suspicion about what the Libyans are up to with al-Megrahi.” He said: “I and others understood that he was released on the grounds of compassion and that he was going to die.”

Dissatisfaction With Both Parties Noted

Some thoughts on the recent polling showing unhappiness with both political parties, from MSNBC's First Read.

Populism is alive and well, folks. And it’s up for grabs. Washington-establishment types watch out: 2010 could be the year of the outsider and turn into the THIRD-STRAIGHT change election cycle, an unprecedented level of political volatility in this country.

What does this tell us ... ? That no one is happy with either party right now… Anyone else surprised we haven't seen more candidates attempt to run on a third-party of indie line?

Study Show Stimulus Funds Allocated For Political Purposes

Back on October 23rd, I posted on how Stimulus funds were directed to areas of low unemployment, while areas of high unemployment received less Stimulus money per capita. (See Stimulus A Misdirected Waste: Money Going To Areas With Low Unemployment.) The overriding considerations in disbursing Stimulus funds were political, not economic.

A new study confirms the previous report.

Report: Democratic districts received nearly twice the amount of stimulus funds as GOP districts

A new analysis of the $157 billion distributed by the American Reinvestment and Recovery act, popularly known as the stimulus bill, shows that the funds were distributed without regard for what states were most in need of jobs.

“You would think that if the stimulus money was actually spent to create jobs, there would be more stimulus money spent in high unemployment states,” said Veronique de Rugy, a scholar at the Mercatus Center who produced the analysis.

"But we don't find any correlation."

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia is one of the nation's most respected economic and regulatory think tanks and has a Nobel prize-winning economist on staff. The econometric analysis was done using data provided by Recovery.gov -- the government website devoted to tracking the stimulus data -- as well as a host of other government databases.

Additionally, Mercatus found that stimulus funds were not disbursed geographically with any special regard for low-income Americans.

“We find no correlation between economic indicators and stimulus funding. Preliminary results find no statistically significant effect of unemployment, median income or mean income on stimulus funds allocation,” said the report.

The Mercatus Center analysis also found that Democratic congressional districts received on average almost double the funding of Republican congressional districts. Republican congressional districts received on average $232 million in stimulus funds while Democratic districts received $439 million on average.

So if you are wondering how all that money could be spent, with little to no effect on unemployment, realize that the economy is just an excuse for political payoff. Never let a crisis go to waste, indeed.

Remember this misallocation when you hear new arguments for further spending for a "jobs program" or whatever they call it.

The sad thing is, and what makes the Stimulus a criminal waste of resources, is that we could have used some targeted spending to assist the economy. There are certainly infrastructure improvements (power plants, rail, communications, schools) that are needed in areas of high unemployment. But the fact is, that money has been wasted because the powers-that-be are more interested in keeping the incumbent re-election rate above 98% than in helping the unemployed.

And they are using your sympathy and concern for your fellow Americans to take advantage of you.

The Real Problem With Health Care -- Cost

At the Modern Whig meeting last week, the Georgia Chair emphasized that we must first understand the problem before you can develop a solution.

For example, he said, the real problem with health care is that it is too expensive, and not enough people can afford it.

With the Health Care Reform Bill to be soon voted on in the Senate, we should be asking if the proposal addresses the real issue.

That is, does the proposal reduce costs so that more people can afford health care? From what I understand, it fails in this respect. (I am afraid the Democrats are blowing their chance, and the Republicans are hopeless on this issue.) Instead, the focus is on who will control the health care system. The proposal therefore does not address the real problem.

As I have stated here many times (the post here has a list), we should arrange for everyone to have coverage. We must reduce costs to improve access. Without it, any attempts at reform will fail.

Assert Your Independence From the Democrats and the Republicans

Excerpts from Poli-Tea: On the Necessity of Intellectual Independence from the Ideology of the Two-Party State

In numerous states and locales across the country, the Democratic-Republican two-party system has devolved into a one-party state, in which one or the other duopoly parties has an effective lock on elected office (ex. Massachusetts, Utah). Duverger's Law would suggest that in such contexts we could reasonably expect to see the rise of a third force to compensate for the deterioration and degeneration of the reigning duopoly order.

In a liberal locale, an appropriate two-party form might offer a choice between the Democrats and the Greens or Socialists. In a conservative polity, on the other hand, we should like to expect a contest between representatives of the Republican and the Libertarian or Constitution Party.

As Republican partisans of the two-party state continue their assault on independent and third party conservative activism, the formulaic nature of their assertions underscores the intellectual bankruptcy of duopoly ideology and reveals an unwillingness or inability to confront the greatest political problem facing the people of the United States, namely, the monopolization and centralization of political power by the Democratic and Republican Parties.

[T]he only "wasted vote" is a vote for a Republican or a Democrat because such votes do nothing more than ensure the reproduction of the reigning political status-quo.

If You're Going To Off A Rich Relative, 2010 Is The Year To Do It.

Making a mockery of long-term planning and stability of the tax law, the Republicans in Congress under Bush scheduled the estate tax to zero for 2010, only to have it return to 55% in 2011.

Estate Tax Is Expiring, but Death Won’t Last

Does this make any sense? No. Confused? Join the club.

This country has had incompetent leadership for so long, we've gotten used to it.

So, no estate tax next year.

Colonel Mustard, may I suggest the candlestick in the conservatory?

Congress Clears Itself Of Ethics Violations

What did you expect?

Dems cleared of wrongdoing in PMA lobbying scandal

Reps. John Murtha (Pa.), Jim Moran (Va.) and Norm Dicks (Wash.) recently received a letter from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) informing them that it found no need for further inquiry into the PMA-related allegations.

The board of the OCE on Nov. 30 voted unanimously to recommend that the full ethics committee dismiss the charges, according to a letter to the OCE from one of the lawmakers involved. The allegations accused the lawmakers of breaking bribery and illegal gratuity laws, as well as breaking House rules by accepting improper gifts in exchange for official action.

The FBI has subpoenaed Visclosky’s office and chief of staff for documents and testimony in the case. The other members so far have not received FBI subpoenas. Visclosky, Murtha, Moran and Dicks have doled out millions of dollars for PMA clients, and both the firm and its clients have showered the four with campaign donations.

All seven have steered earmarks to PMA clients and received campaign contributions, but Kaptur, Tiahrt and Young have received far fewer campaign contributions from PMA than the other four members of the defense-spending panel under scrutiny for their ties to the firm.

18 December 2009

Neo-Nazis Suspected In Auschwitz Theft

Times (UK): Neo-Nazis suspected of raid on Auschwitz ‘to rewrite history’

The slickly organised theft of one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust sent a wave of outrage around the world yesterday.

The sign that hung over the gates of Auschwitz extermination camp, where more than a million people died during the Second World War, was stolen in minutes. Polish police suspect that the culprits were either neo-Nazis or acting on behalf of collectors or a group of individuals.

The slogan wrought in iron, Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work sets you free”), was the cynical welcome to those entering the camp in the 1940s. One million of the 1.1 million people who died at Auschwitz were Jewish.

The theft in the early hours of yesterday was seen as an attempt by right-wing extremists to muddy the narrative of the Holocaust.

Poland is treating the recovery of the sign from the site, near Cracow, as a matter of national honour.

Despite The Headline, Poll Shows Trouble With Both Parties

WSJ: Democrats' Blues Grow Deeper in New Poll

Less than a year after Inauguration Day, support for the Democratic Party continues to slump, amid a difficult economy and a wave of public discontent, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

The survey suggests that public discontent with Mr. Obama and his party is being driven by an unusually grim view of the country's status and future prospects.
A majority of Americans believe the U.S. is in decline. And a plurality now say the U.S. will be surpassed by China in 20 years as the top power.

But public displeasure with Democrats wasn't translating directly into warmth for Republicans. Twenty-eight percent of voters expressed positive feelings about the GOP -- a number that has remained constant through the Democrats' decline over the summer and fall. Only 5% said their feelings toward the Republicans were "very positive."

Still, the survey paints a decidedly gloomy picture for Democrats, who appear to be bearing the brunt of public unease as unemployment has risen from 7.6% to 10% since Mr. Obama took office. Just 35% of voters said they felt positively about the Democratic Party, a 14-point slide since February. Ten percent felt "very positive."

Democrats' troubles can be attributed in part to changing feelings among some core supporters. A third of voters 34 and under, a group that turned out heavily for Democrats last year, feel negative toward the Democratic Party. And just 38% of Hispanics feel positive, down sharply from 60% in February.

Congress Lives It Up. On Your Dime.

While you worry about keeping your job, members of Congress worry about which brand of single-malt scotch to bill you for.

An excerpt from the WSJ, read the whole report: Congress Travels More, Public Pays
Lawmakers Ramp Up Taxpayer-Financed Journeys; Five Days in Scotland

Besides rooms for sleeping, the 12 members of the House of Representatives rented their hotel's fireplace-equipped presidential suite and two adjacent rooms. The hotel cleared out the beds and in their place set up a bar, a snack room and office space. The three extra rooms -- stocked with liquor, Coors beer, chips and salsa, sandwiches, Mrs. Fields cookies and York Peppermint Patties -- cost a total of about $1,500 a night. They were rented for five nights.

While in Scotland, the House members toured historic buildings. Some shopped for Scotch whisky and visited the hotel spa. They capped the trip with a dinner at one of the region's finest restaurants, paid for by the legislators, who got $118 daily stipends for meals and incidentals.

Eleven of the 12 legislators then left the five-day conference two days early.

The tour provides a glimpse of the mixture of business and pleasure involved in legislators' overseas trips, which are growing in number and mostly financed by the taxpayer. Lawmakers travel with military liaisons who carry luggage, help them through customs, escort them on sightseeing trips and stock their hotel rooms with food and liquor. Typically, spouses come along, flying free on jets operated by the Air Force. Legislative aides come too. On the ground, all travel in chauffeured vehicles.

For the discerning Congressman, I would suggest the "Macallan 1926" for $38,000 a bottle, but it unfortunately appears to be sold out. A Senator must have beat you to it.

The President Is No B+

Barack Obama has won a place in history with the worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year: 49% approve and 46% disapprove of his job performance in the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll.

There are many factors that explain it, including weakness abroad, an unprecedented spending binge at home, and making a perfectly awful health-care plan his signature domestic initiative. But something else is happening.

Mr. Obama has not governed as the centrist, deficit-fighting, bipartisan consensus builder he promised to be. And his promise to embody a new kind of politics—free of finger-pointing, pettiness and spin—was a mirage. He has cheapened his office with needless attacks on his predecessor.

Consider Mr. Obama's comment in his interview this past Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes" that the Bush administration made a mistake in speaking in "a triumphant sense about war."

This was a slap at every president who rallied the nation in dark moments, including Franklin D. Roosevelt ("With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph"); Woodrow Wilson ("Right is more precious than peace and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts"); and John F. Kennedy ("Any hostile move anywhere in the world against the safety and freedom of peoples to whom we are committed . . . will be met by whatever action is needed").

This kind of attack gives Mr. Obama's words a slippery quality. For example, he voted for the bank rescue plan in September 2008 and praised it during the campaign. Yet on Dec. 8 at the Brookings Institution, Mr. Obama called it "flawed" and blamed "the last administration" for launching it "hastily."

Really? Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and New York Fed President Timothy Geithner designed it. If it was "flawed," why did Mr. Obama later nominate Mr. Bernanke to a second term as Fed chairman and make Mr. Geithner his Treasury secretary?

There's more where this came from. You have to keep in mind who Karl Rove is, but he makes a valid point or two.

Nullius In Verba

"Nullius in verba" means "take nobody's word for it."

BBC: In praise of scepticism

The word "sceptic" is in danger of becoming a term of abuse. A "climate sceptic" is used to mean someone who rejects the evidence of global warming. But scepticism is actually a healthy instinct and should be celebrated.

The urge to question accepted truths, to doubt received wisdom, to investigate things for yourself, is the basis of scientific enquiry.

So let's not damn people for being sceptical of the climate science... unless, that is, they don't make the effort to make a reasonable examination of the evidence.

I'm happy to celebrate the instinct to question authority because scepticism is also the basis of journalistic enquiry.

A couple of days after my blog on cars was published, I was shocked to find an e-mail from an environmentalist who said it should never have been posted. He made no effort whatsoever to refute my claims, his argument was simply that it undermined the debate to publish such heresy.

That instinct to suppress evidence that challenges preconceptions is very dangerous. Any hint that the climate change science is anything other than transparent will - understandably - encourage people to be even more sceptical.

Quote of the Day

Right now, if you don't like the local grade school, you move to the next town. If you're sick of Massachusetts taxes, you move to New Hampshire. Where do you move to if you don't like "global governance"? What polling station do you go to to vote it out? -- Mark Steyn

No Recession For Coddled Public Sector Workers

Economist: Welcome to the real world
For decades, America’s public-sector workers have been coddled and spoiled. The recession may change that

While politicians mull tax increases and service cuts, public-sector workers continue to gobble up money—in Philadelphia, they account for 61% of spending. The crisis, however, at least illuminates a simple fact. The status quo is unaffordable.

For years, public-sector workers have basked in an alternative reality. Nevertheless, as private-sector unions have faded, public-sector ones have thrived. In 2008 37% of government workers were unionised, nearly five times the share in the private sector (see chart), and the same share that was unionised 25 years earlier. Over that period, the share of unionised private-sector jobs collapsed from 17% to 8%. In 2009, for the first time, public workers comprised more than half of America’s union members.

Democrats in particular have little incentive to anger workers, who are often their electoral foot-soldiers, and neither party wants to prod them to strike, since they hold monopolies.

As a result, public-sector workers are spoiled rotten. Government employees earn 21% more than private ones and are 24% more likely to have access to health care. Only 21% of private workers enjoy a defined-benefit (DB) pension, which guarantees retirement income based on years of service and final salary. But 84% of state and local workers still receive DB plans.

All this might be grand if states and cities could afford it, but they cannot; unlike the federal government, they have the pesky obligation to balance their budgets.

Houston To Screen All Suspects For Immigration Status

Houston Chronicle: All jailed suspects to get ICE check

City and police officials announced a major technology upgrade Thursday in all of Houston's jails that will allow them to run national, fingerprint-based criminal and immigration background checks on all suspects booked into jail.

With the improved technology, the city is now able to participate in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program dubbed Secure Communities, which runs biometric checks for suspects' immigration history when they are booked into local jails.

The Houston Police Department routinely transfers suspects charged with more serious offenses — Class B misdemeanors and above — to the Harris County Jail, which has participated in Secure Communities for more than a year. That means those suspects were getting a more thorough national fingerprint-based background check at the county jail.

But until this week, suspects booked into the city jail on Class C misdemeanors, the most minor crimes, were not subject to the same scrutiny since the city lacked the technical capability to send fingerprints to ICE or run national fingerprint-based checks.

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt estimated that HPD officers arrest and jail an average of 58,000 people annually on Class C misdemeanors. About 14,000 — or 24 percent — of those are non-citizens, Hurtt said.

Copenhagen Conference Cheers Chavez

Putting our economy in the hands of Chavez fans

These maniacs in Copenhagen are voting on your future:

President Chavez brought the house down.

When he said the process in Copenhagen was “not democratic, it is not inclusive, but isn’t that the reality of our world, the world is really and imperial dictatorship…down with imperial dictatorships” he got a rousing round of applause.

When he said there was a “silent and terrible ghost in the room” and that ghost was called capitalism, the applause was deafening.

But then he wound up to his grand conclusion – 20 minutes after his 5 minute speaking time was supposed to have ended and after quoting everyone from Karl Marx to Jesus Christ - “our revolution seeks to help all people…socialism, the other ghost that is probably wandering around this room, that’s the way to save the planet, capitalism is the road to hell....let’s fight against capitalism and make it obey us.”

He won a standing ovation.

Having Good Fun Down On The Bayou

A recent study reports that Louisiana is the happiest state. I have spent a lot of time in and around Louisiana, and I have to admit, they are probably right. They are always up to something there.

People in Louisiana are probably having fun right now.


Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we'll have good fun on the bayou

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
'Cause tonight I'm gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou.

Thibodeaux, Fontainbleau, the place is buzzin'
Kinfolk come to see Yvonne by the dozen
Dress in style, go hog wild, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou.

17 December 2009

More Filing For Unemployment

Unemployment claims rise unexpectedly

The number of Americans filing for initial unemployment insurance rose last week, the government said Thursday. Analysts had expected a decline.


Senate Panel Backs Bernanke for a Second Term at Fed
... [O]utspoken critics ... have blamed him for enormously costly initiatives that have bolstered some Wall Street financial firms while leaving ordinary Americans staring at persistent double-digit jobless rates.

You might be comfortable naked, but that don’t mean it looks good.

I remember articles about the up-and-coming generation dressing better than their elders back in the early 90s. So here is the trend, again:

Dressing for Success, Again

Today the well-off 55-year-old is likely to be the worst-dressed man in the room, wearing a saggy T-shirt and jeans. The cash-poor 25-year-old is in a natty sport coat and skinny tie bought at Topman for a song. Young men are embracing the “Mad Men” elements of style in a way that the older men never did, still don’t and just won’t. The result is a kind of rift emerging between the generation of men in their 20s and 30s and those in their late 40s and 50s for whom a suit was not merely square but cubed, and caring about how one looked was effeminate.

The evidence of this style gap is everywhere. Just check out the numerous men’s wear blogs — acontinuouslean.com, dandyism.net, thetrad.blogspot.com, fineanddandyshop.blogspot.com — dedicated not to cutting-edge European fashion but to old-school minutiae of dressing well. Or take a look at the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones, who favors double-breasted suits and bow ties and talks about “the resurgence of the gentleman.”

“It’s these young guys rebelling against their boomer dads,” said Russell Smith, 45, the author of “Men’s Style: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Dress” and an advice columnist for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. “But it’s very amusing and paradoxical that the new anti-parental paradigm involves a pinstripe suit and a pocket square.”

Far from being a superficial movement, the style gap is seen by young men as something of real substance, with the same kind of opposition to fuddy-duddy ways that the boomers wore threadbare.

So, in an age of irony, here’s a whopper: Given how zealously baby boomers have clung to, or hopped on, all kinds of youth trends, no matter how age-inappropriate, why can’t they hop on this one?

What’s the worst that could happen, Pops? Someone might think you are 10 years younger?

Debate Should Include Libertarian Candidate

A special election is coming up to elect the replacement for the late Senator Kennedy. A Libertarian (also named Kennedy, but no relation) qualified for the general election as an independent. The question has arisen as to whether the independent candidate should be allowed to take part in the candidate's debate. An editorial in the Boston Globe stated that he should not be allowed in the debate, arguing that he was "little known."

It is disturbing that a news organization would advocate keeping information from the voters. It also shows how tied into advocating for the two-party system the media can often be.

As for as the argument that the candidate is little known, Ballot Access News observes, "The Boston Globe says the independent, Joseph L. Kennedy, is “little-known”. Obviously, if he were included in all the debates, that problem would be overcome."

From Examiner.com via Independent Political Report: Let libertarian Kennedy debate

Over 13,000 voters expressed through their signatures, a desire to have another candidate on the ballot. If that many people showed up on the Globe’s doorstep demanding they sponsor or cover something, you bet the publishers and editors would react in a favorable way. Half the voters don’t even bother to show up, knowing that it doesn’t matter.

Mr. Kennedy and his signatories have done what the state asks of it. The public at large ought to start questioning why a major publication should advocate blocking a legitimate ballot qualified candidate from a debate based on the insinuation that it will benefit the supplicant of such a request. Glorifying a fictional fight between classic opponents is stuff even the smallest college newspaper wouldn’t do anymore. Whether the Globe thinks Coakley is just staying above the fray or wants a one on one brawl amongst bloody opponents, they should stop taking sides. When newspapers endorse or favor one of the main party candidates or both, they do a disservice to their readership. It's no wonder their model is failing and they can't figure out why.

More commentary from Poli-Tea: MA: The Democratic-Republican Duopolist Media Complex

UPDATE: It looks like candidate Kennedy will now be invited to the debates: IPR: Independent Libertarian Joe Kennedy invited to at least some of the debates in Massachusetts special US Senate election

You behind with the I.R.S.?

If you work at the Post Office, you probably are.

At a time when the White House is projecting the largest deficit in the nation's history, Uncle Sam is trying to recover billions of dollars in unpaid taxes from its own employees.

Federal workers owe more than $3 billion in income taxes they failed to pay in 2008. According to Internal Revenue Service documents, 276,300 federal employees and retirees owe $3,042,200,000.

The IRS tracks the voluntary compliance rate of federal employees and retirees each year, and each year feds come up short. The one bright spot in this year's report is that after several years of a steady increase, the amount owed by feds is down from the previous year.

Federal employees and retirees owed $3,586,784,725 in unpaid income taxes in 2007.

The documents show delinquent employees from nearly every federal agency with more than 25 employees. Based on percentages, the Department of The Treasury, which includes the IRS, has the best compliance rate. Fewer than 1 percent of Treasury employees didn't pay their taxes in 2008.

The IRS is the only federal agency where employees can be fired for not paying their taxes. The non-compliance rate for IRS employees in 2008 was 0.76 percent -- down from 0.89 percent in 2007.

The agency with the most tax scofflaws is the U.S. Postal Service, with 28,913 employees who owe $297,933,756. But that is still a dramatic improvement from 2007 when more than 54,000 employees owed more than $407 million.

"We urge our employees to comply with all tax laws and are encouraged that many who have been delinquent have agreed to payment plan with the IRS," USPS spokesperson Mark Saunders says.

"It's important to look at the percentage of postal employees who may be delinquent on their federal taxes, not just the number itself. According to IRS figures, the delinquency rate for Postal Service employees is relatively small."

The Postal Service, the largest employer in the federal government aside from the military, has a non-compliance rate of 3.95 percent compared to the federal average of 2.8 percent.

So I Guess They Concede The Stimulus Failed To Stimulate Jobs

The $700 Billion + Stimulus package was sold as a jobs bill. That the Democrats are compelled to pass more spending to creats jobs is a concession that the Stimulus failed.

So, of course, the answer is ...... wait for it ....... more stimulus spending!

House narrowly passes Pelosi's $174B jobs bill

The House narrowly passed Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) $174 billion jobs bill Wednesday, only after Pelosi and other party leaders yelled, pleaded and cajoled reluctant Democrats worried over deficit spending.

The vote was 217-212. No Republicans voted for the bill, and 38 Democrats voted against it.

It was the second suspenseful vote of what House members hope was their last workday in 2009. Democratic leaders also had to lobby members from conservative districts to pass a $300 billion increase in the debt limit.

The close votes reflect the growing unease among centrist Democrats that the deficit spending that Congress has undertaken to right the economy is becoming a potent campaign issue.

But Democrats facing tough re-election fights found themselves trying to determine if voters are angrier about 10 percent unemployment or trillions in deficits.

Oh, don't waste time trying to figure it out. We are angry about both.

The Consequences of Blowing Health Care Reform

If Health Care Reform Fails, America’s Innovation Gap Will Grow

In the cradle of American innovation, workers are making career choices based on co-payments, pre-existing conditions and other minutiae of health insurance. They are not necessarily making decisions based on what would be best for their careers and, in turn, for the American economy ...

It is impossible to know how much economic damage these distortions are causing, but they clearly aren’t good. Economic research suggests that more than 1.5 million workers who would otherwise have switched jobs fail to do so every year because of fears about health insurance. Some of them would have moved to companies where they could have contributed more, and others would have started their own businesses.

This link between insurance and innovation isn’t relevant merely for the obvious reason that Congress is in the late stages of debating health reform. It is also relevant because the United States is suffering from an innovation deficit.

Even before the financial crisis, the decade that will end later this month was on pace to have the slowest economic growth of any since before World War II. The No. 1 reason, I’d argue, was our innovation deficit.

For most of this decade, the rate at which companies eliminated jobs was actually lower than in the 1990s (despite the stories you sometimes hear about the United States having entered a new era of economic instability). The problem was that companies weren’t creating enough new jobs. The rate at which existing companies added jobs declined 14 percent from the end of the 1990s to 2007, according to the Labor Department. The rate at which start-up companies created jobs fell even more: 24 percent.

Given the consequences of the innovation deficit — slower growth, fewer jobs, lower living standards — you would want to look for every possible solution, wouldn’t you?

New One Off Ferrari

The second model to emerge from Ferrari’s top-secret Special Projects Programme has been revealed.

The department was set up in 2007 after the firm saw there was a market in creating unique models to wear the Ferrari badge.

See the Ferrari P540 Superfast Aperta pics

Special Projects was then set up by Ferrari to counter this demand and ensure it could cater for one-off individual requests. Any car has to keep the same basic architecture as the donor car so it doesn’t have to be re-homologated.

Special Projects’ latest model is the Ferrari P540 Superfast Aperta. It has been inspired by the gold Ferrari from the 1968 film Toby Dammit and was delivered to its new owner, Edward Walson, whose father invented cable television.

Walson approached Ferrari last year. Special Projects is able to decline requests, but it felts Walson’s was in keeping with the brand’s ideals. Walson worked with a Ferrari consultant in Maranello on the design, before Pininfarina sculpted the final model. The car was then built in Maranello, taking 14 months from Walson’s initial request to its final shakedown test as a road-legal Ferrari.

The Superfast Aperta is based on a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, and it had to undergo extensive carbonfibre chassis strengthening in order to accommodate its targa roof. Weight has increased by 20kg over the standard car.

As well as owning the car, Walson also receives the tooling as part of buying his car through Special Projects. This is to ensure each model made by the department remains unique. Ferrari has the first option to buy back Special Projects cars and tooling to stop them from falling into the hands of speculators.

The cost of such a project is rumored to be several million dollars.

What's Worse -- the Waste or the Hypocrisy?

Mountain of Waste at Copenhagen Video at the link.

Use less water. Drive smaller cars. Turn down the heat. Save the planet.

Those are the messages coming from the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, but the environmental elite here may have a problem with saying one thing while doing another -- at least when it comes to paper.

The odd thing is that even amid these mountains of papers, everyone has a laptop.
"So much of this could be done electronically," said Luke, an NGO worker from Germany who didn't want his last name used.

Most of the attendees don't see hypocrisy in the mountain of paper, let along the summit's overall carbon footprint. During Earth Hour, which ran from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Bella Center turned off the lights to save energy, but everyone clapped when they turned the lights back on — defacing the planet once again, in the opinion of many attendees. After all, Denmark gets 80 percent of its electricity from coal.

Most attendees haven't exactly been hoofing their way to Denmark's capital, swarming the city's airport with 140 private jets, 1,200 hired limousines and a carbon footprint the size of a small country.

Add to that the fact that only about 1,000 actual negotiators actually work on making the deal. The rest — the environmentalists, companies and NGOs — are here just to influence the process and make connections.

So all their plane tickets from Senegal and Australia, the U.S. and China, all their meals imported from Africa, Asia and Latin America, all their taxis in Copenhagen and the massive electricity bills at the Bella Center — all of those blows to the environment are coming to facilitate a massive activist meetup.

Lieberman Stands in Middle of Health Care Debate

The Senate health care debate has left Sen. Joe Lieberman just where he wants to be: squarely in the middle.

Not just the policy middle; the area he has carved out as his own since declaring himself an "Independent Democrat" and winning a new Senate term despite losing a primary race in his home state of Connecticut.

Not just the political middle; although he's right there, too, perhaps the most important arbiter of what can fly in President Obama's health care bill. Lieberman is once again in the center of a raging debate about political loyalties and what it means to be a Democrat.

In just one manifestation of liberals' frustration, filmmaker Michael Moore today called on Connecticut voters to start a recall drive to oust Lieberman from office, "or we'll boycott your state."

How awesome! Every disgruntled citizen should hail Joe Lieberman as their champion. Look at the power a free-thinking, reasonable man has. Imagine if there were just 4 or 5 Independants or third parties represented in every house of the legislature. No 1 party could get things done.

Furthermore, Michael Moore can boycott anything he wants. I hope he is boycotting Texas.

Report Shows Repression of Religion

Study: Religion repressed in third of all nations

People living in a third of all countries are restricted from practicing religion freely, either because of government policies and laws or hostile acts by individuals or groups, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center, "Global Restrictions on Religion."

That amounts to 70 percent of the globe's population, since some of the most restrictive countries are very populous.

Of the world's 25 most populous countries, citizens in Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and India live with the most restrictions when both measures are taken into account, the study found.

The United States, Brazil, Japan, Italy, South Africa and the United Kingdom have the least amount of restrictions on religious practices when measured by both government infringement and religion-based violence or harassment, according to the study.

One of the essential four freedoms was "freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world."

Government of the Banks, By the Banks, For the Banks

Taxpayers screwed over yet again because of the Bailout. Here is the latest outrage. Note that the Obama Administration hasn't done anything that the Bush Administration didn't do. It doesn't matter -- Democrats or Republicans -- you and me get screwed.

Washington Post: U.S. gave up billions in tax money in deal for Citigroup's bailout repayment
Firms exempted from rule when U.S. sells its stake

The federal government quietly agreed to forgo billions of dollars in potential tax payments from Citigroup as part of the deal announced this week to wean the company from the massive taxpayer bailout that helped it survive the financial crisis.

The Internal Revenue Service on Friday issued an exception to long-standing tax rules for the benefit of Citigroup and a few other companies partially owned by the government. As a result, Citigroup will be allowed to retain billions of dollars worth of tax breaks that otherwise would decline in value when the government sells its stake to private investors.

While the Obama administration has said taxpayers are likely to profit from the sale of the Citigroup shares, accounting experts said the lost tax revenue could easily outstrip those profits.

The IRS, an arm of the Treasury Department, has changed a number of rules during the financial crisis to reduce the tax burden on financial firms. The rule changed Friday also was altered last fall by the Bush administration to encourage mergers, letting Wells Fargo cut billions of dollars from its tax bill by buying the ailing Wachovia.

"You're manipulating tax rules so that the market value of the stock is higher than it would be under current law," said the aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "It inflates the returns that they're showing from TARP and that looks good for them."

Health Care Reform Costs -- $848 Billion or $2.1 Trillion?

Has the CBO scoring of the costs of proposed health care reform been manipulated?
The problem is that crafting the private-sector mandates such that they fall just a hair short of CBO's definition does not reduce those mandates' cost, nor does it make those mandates any less binding. But it dramatically reduces the apparent cost of the legislation. It's the reason we're all talking about an $848 billion Reid bill, rather than a $2.1 trillion Reid bill.

16 December 2009

Interesting Discussion on Universal Jurisdiction

Go read: Universal Jurisdiction

Tea-Party Movement Co-opted

PJM: Are Some Tea Partiers Selling Out to the GOP?
Local and national GOP leaders have made attempts to co-opt the tea party movement as their own. Some have succeeded.

Have the tea parties and some of their leaders sold out to the GOP too soon in the cycle of their power?

Have they succumbed to publicity and power at the risk of hurting their own cause? Could they be draining their good will and momentum before 2010 even starts?

Meanwhile, tea parties in various parts of the country are siding with the Tea Party Express, which is a production of a Republican-leaning PAC and thus very partisan.

Rocky Exo-Planets Discovered

'Super-Earths' orbit nearby stars

Planet-hunters have discovered two "super-Earths" orbiting two nearby Sun-like stars. These rocky planets are larger than the Earth but much smaller than ice giants such as Uranus and Neptune. Scientists say the discoveries are a step towards finding potentially habitable planets - smaller planets that are comparable to the Earth.

The smallest of the three was five times the mass of Earth, and orbited the star once every four days. The other newly-discovered system was orbiting the star HD 1461, which is 76 light-years from Earth. The researchers found clear evidence for a planet 7.5 times the mass of Earth, and possible indications of two others. Both stars resemble our Sun in size and age.

The planets have orbits too close to their stars to support life or liquid water. But, according to Dr Butler, they point the way toward finding other planets in similar orbits around nearby "M-dwarfs" - stars that are typically less than half the mass of the Sun.

"These sorts of planets around M-dwarfs actually would be in a liquid water zone," he said. "So we are knocking on the door right now of being able to find habitable planets."

Professor Vogt said: "These detections indicate that low-mass planets are quite common around nearby stars.

"The discovery of potentially habitable nearby worlds may be just a few years away."

Rock Hall takes a chance on ABBA

ABBA, a Swedish pop group that became one of the most successful acts in pop history, continues to sell millions of records each year and has been finding new fans through the popularity of "Mamma Mia," a stage musical and film incorporating its songs, including "Dancing Queen," "Money, Money, Money" and "The Winner Takes It All."

ABBA made it in this time after being nominated previously but not making the cut.

Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here.

It's great to see true genius rewarded.

Al Gore shoots self, climate summit in foot

Oh dear. Saint Al Gore, the man who invented both the internet and anthropogenic global warming and made himself obscenely rich in the process, has banged yet another nail into the rickety coffin of the global warming religious cult by coming out with what scientists describe as 'a complete load of bollocks' at the Copenhagen climate worryfest.

Gore, speaking at the Copenhagen climate change summit, claimed that the latest research showed that the Arctic could be completely ice-free in five years.
One would think that in the light of the Climategate scandal, the Blessed Al would make sure that his data was accurate and pretty much bullet-proof, but sadly he merely added to the pantheon of completely fabricated climate stats.

Unfortunately, the scientist whose research was quoted by Gore, Doctor Wieslav Maslowski, rather pissed on his chips by stating: “It’s unclear to me how this figure was arrived at. I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this.”

A Gore spokesman backpedalled furiously, saying that the figure quoted was merely a ballpark figure that was mentioned in a conversation between the two men a few years ago.

The Copenhagen conference was already looking pretty much dead in the water yesterday after the African delegation walked out in protest at Danish moves to ignore emissions targets agreed at the Kyoto conference in 2007. Gore’s gaffe makes it look very much as if no meaningful agreement will be reached before the conference ends.

Gore’s speech was slammed by climate scientists, one of which, Jim Overland from the US Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said: “This is an exaggeration that opens the science up to criticism from sceptics."
I might be a little more open minded about all this if they practiced what they preached and if they weren't all making millions of dollars off of it.

Recommendations For Balanced Budget

The Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform: Red Ink Rising
A Call to Action to Stem the Mounting Federal Debt

Over the past year alone, the public debt of the United States rose sharply from 41 to 53 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Under reasonable assumptions, the debt is projected to grow steadily, reaching 85 percent of GDP by 2018, 100 percent by 2022, and 200 percent in 2038.

However, before the debt reached such high levels, the United States would almost certainly experience a debtdriven crisis—something previously viewed as almost unfathomable in the world’s largest economy. The crisis could unfold gradually or it could happen suddenly, but with great costs either way.

The tipping point is impossible to predict, but the United States is already hearing concerns about its fiscal management from some of its largest creditors, and the country is uncomfortably vulnerable to shifts in confidence around the world.

The Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform is calling for Congress and the White House to take immediate action to stem the growing federal debt. Our proposal is crafted both to accommodate the needs of the still-recovering economy, and reflect the tremendous risks posed by the large and expanding debt burden.

We recommend that Congress and the White House formulate a fiscal framework that includes:

  • A commitment to stabilize the public debt over the medium term;
  • Specific policies to stabilize the debt;
  • Annual debt targets with an automatic enforcement mechanism to ensure targets are met; and
  • A commitment to reduce further the debt level over the longer term.

The Commission recommends that Congress and the White House follow a six-step plan:

Step 1: Commit immediately to stabilize the debt at 60 percent of GDP by 2018;

Step 2: Develop a specific and credible debt stabilization package in 2010;

Step 3: Begin to phase in policy changes in 2012;

Step 4: Review progress annually and implement an enforcement regime to stay on track;

Step 5: Stabilize the debt by 2018; and

Step 6: Continue to reduce the debt as a share of the economy over the longer term.

Goof Off For A Few Minutes On The Job Today? You Broke A Federal Law.

Gene Healy: Making criminals out of all Americans

The 1988 law at issue aims at public corruption and corporate misconduct, but sweeps far too broadly, criminalizing schemes to "deprive another of the intangible right of honest services."

If that language seems a little, well, intangible to you, you're not alone. Hurling hypotheticals, the justices strained to find a limiting principle that could prevent the law from covering an employee reading a racing form on the clock (Stephen Breyer) or calling in sick to go to a ballgame (Antonin Scalia). Of some 150 million workers in the United States, Breyer told Drebeen, "I think possibly 140 million of them would flunk your test."

The court's struggle with the "honest services" statute points toward a larger issue: the burgeoning problem of overcriminalization.

The Founders viewed the criminal sanction as a last resort, reserved for serious offenses, clearly defined, so ordinary citizens would know whether they were violating the law.

Yet over the last 40 years, an unholy alliance of big-business-hating liberals and tough-on-crime conservatives has made criminalization the first line of attack -- a way to demonstrate seriousness about the social problem of the month, whether it's corporate scandals or e-mail spam.

At one point on Tuesday, Breyer protested: "I thought there was a principle that a citizen is supposed to be able to understand the criminal law." Good luck with that.

There are now more than 4,000 federal crimes, spread out through some 27,000 pages of the U.S. Code. Some years ago, analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offenses on the books, and gave up, lacking the resources to get the job done. If teams of legal researchers can't make sense of the federal criminal code, obviously, ordinary citizens don't stand a chance.

You can serve federal time for interstate transport of water hyacinths, trafficking in unlicensed dentures, or misappropriating the likeness of Woodsy Owl and his associated slogan, "Give a hoot, don't pollute." ("What are you in for, kid?" your new cellmate growls.) Bills currently before Congress would send Americans to federal prison for eating horsemeat or selling goods falsely labeled as "Native American."

"Is that the system we have, that Congress can say, nobody shall do any bad things?" an exasperated Scalia asked Drebeen. The system we have comes pretty close, unfortunately. And a federal criminal code that covers everything delegates to prosecutors and the police the power to pick their targets at will, leaving everyone at risk.

But bringing sanity back to federal criminal law is too big a task for the court alone to handle. What's needed is a comprehensive culling of the federal code.

British Government Acts As Shill For Palestinians, Moves To Arrest Former Israeli Official

Actions like this debase the concept of "war crimes."

Israel Calls U.K. Effort to Try Livni 'Absurdity'
Israel reacted angrily Tuesday to a British arrest warrant for former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on war-crimes allegations, with the government threatening to sideline the U.K. in Mideast peace talks.

A Westminster, London, magistrate court on Saturday issued the warrant, alleging crimes related to Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009. Ms. Livni, who is now opposition leader, was foreign minister at the time and one of three government officials -- with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- to oversee the offensive.

The warrant was issued ahead of a U.K. convention of the Jewish National Fund, to which Ms. Livni had been invited, but had declined to attend. The warrant was revoked by the court on Monday after it was clear she wasn't in the country.

Baseball Commissioner forms Advisory Committee to improve the game

Commissioner Bud Selig announced that he will chair a new 14-man special committee to analyze ways of improving Major League Baseball.

Here are some of my suggestions:

1. No more balks

2. No more designated hitter

3. No astro-turf

4. No players defecting to the Cuban or Dominican teams for the World Games or the Olympics. (If you live here and make millions here, represent here. Save the Dominican flag for the rear view mirror of your Ferrari.)

5. No adaptations on the National Anthem

6. All players required to wear real baseball pants; not trousers

7. Ticket prices that are affordable to the average family

The committee includes four managers, four former and present general managers, four owner representatives, MLB consultant and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, plus renowned columnist George Will.
"There will be no sacred cows," Selig said on a conference call. "We're open to talk about anything. I've had this in mind for a long time. This is a very blunt group. I want to sit there and listen. If there's anything we can do to improve this game I want to hear about it and discuss it.

15 December 2009

US House to vote on short-term debt limit hike

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a short-term boost to the debt limit this week to avoid a government default, House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer said.

Leaders are considering a hike of roughly $200 billion to $300 billion. "Essentially that will get us an additional two months of fiscal ability," Hoyer told his weekly news conference.

Sure! Why the hell not?

Say One Thing, Do Another

When you get down to brass tacks, the Republicans actually stand for nothing but their own hides. Here's a good example of how the Republicans can flip on an issue that is supposedly part of their principles:

Slate: Are Republicans Serious About Fixing Health Care?
No, and here's the proof.

One might credit the sincerity, if not the validity, of such concerns were it not for an inconvenient bit of history. Not so long ago, when Republicans controlled the Senate, Grassley was the chief architect of a bill that actually did most of the bad things he now accuses the Democrats of wanting. As chairman of the finance committee, Grassley championed the legislation that created a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare. The contrast between what he and his colleagues said during that debate in 2003 and what they're saying in 2009 exposes the disingenuousness of their current complaints.

The explanation for this vast collective flip-flop is—have you guessed?—politics. Medicare recipients are much more likely to vote Republican than the uninsured who would benefit most from the Democratic bills. In 2003, Karl Rove was pushing the traditional liberal tactic of solidifying senior support with a big new federal benefit, don't worry about how to pay for it. Today, GOP incumbents are more worried about fending off primary challenges from the right, like the one Grassley may face in 2010, or being called traitors by Rush Limbaugh. But what happened the last time they were in charge gives the lie to their claim that they object to expanding government. They only object to expanding government in a way that doesn't help them get re-elected.

Change? More Like More Of The Same

I question the ability of our political system to actually change course, and to accomodate the concerns of the American people.

Sure you have a choice. You can look in any direction. The view is the same. It's nothing but barren ideas, as far as the eye can see.

Last year, the American people, desperate for change amid a deteriorating economic situation, voted for as much change as the two-party system would allow.

What did they get?

A continuation of the Bush Administration's economic policies. We've got reduced access to credit, more Bailout, more Stimulus, ruinous levels of unemployment, out of control spending, scarily high levels of debt, falling standing in the world economy, a failure to address financial sector reform, incipent inflation, a weak dollar, government takeover of key industries, continuing government incompetence and corruption, and the distraction of side issues and pet legislative projects instead of focusing on real concerns.

Just like when the Republicans were in charge, except multiplied.

Do you really think that if McCain had won, there would be any real difference in economic policy? His policies would be but a variation of what we have now, with the same results.

The only difference is that Republicans would be pushing a Stimulus, and the Democrats would be arguing against it.

Red Ink Raises Alarm

Rising U.S. debt could push up interest rates
Congress set to raise borrowing limit by $2 trillion to $14 trillion

With the economy growing only sluggishly and Congress spending heavily on economic stimulus, two wars and extended unemployment benefits, the nation is running a deficit that hit a record $1.4 trillion in the latest fiscal year, adding to the national debt.

That raises the question of whether the government's growing need to borrow money for operations could eventually drive interest rates higher, threatening the nascent economic recovery.

There’s no question that the raw numbers being thrown around this week by Congress are truly scary. The total U.S. public debt of $12 trillion has has more than doubled in eight years and is up tenfold since 1982. The proposed $2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling has touched off predictable outrage — from both parties —about how urgently Congress needs to control spending.

Fears of another outbreak of inflation could also push long-term rates higher. Because inflation erodes the buying power of each dollar, investors demand higher rates to make up for the lower “real” rate of return.

Senate Passes Spending Bill Amid Debate on Raising Debt Limit

But even as they sent the spending measure to President Obama, Democrats were deeply divided over efforts to substantially raise the federal debt limit before Congress quits for the year.

With the increased spending and more red ink provoking new Congressional alarm, a group of Democratic deficit hawks was insisting that Congress and the White House agree to new efforts to rein in the deficit or they would block a large increase in the debt limit.

Failure to increase the $12.1 trillion debt limit to cover federal borrowing could lead to a technical government default. As a result, the White House is eager to get some breathing room on the debt by the end of the year, giving lawmakers worried about deficit spending added power.